Monday, December 3, 2012
138. Pete Hill: Friars, guns and umps
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that last year at this time I teamed up with Ron Hill and Gary Ashwill to produce a 15 card set of Hall of Famer Pete Hill. Ron Hill, Pete's nephew, was the driving force behind producing a nice card set to commemorate his famous uncle and he uses the set to teach kids about the great black ballplayers prior to Jackie Robinson. Baseball historian and statistical archaeologist Gary Ashwill uncovered some fantastic information on Pete's long and successful career that spanned the years just prior to the organized Negro leagues. Pete seemed to have played ball everywhere and with or against everyone! The list of teams he played on is basically a list of the best black teams prior to the first world war. The set is high on the list of favorite things I've done because I was able to really illustrate some fantastic looking early baseball uniforms as well as visually tell the story of a little-known Hall of Fame ballplayer. The card you see here is case-in-point: look at that unique caramel brown uniform, quilted pants and striped undershirt - a baseball artist couldn't ask for something better than that to work with! I was lucky in that most of the teams Pete played for sported interesting duds and you can see them all in the set.
Besides my illustrations, the running text on the backs of each card tells Pete's story for the first time thanks to Gary Ashwill's ground-breaking research (if his name sounds familiar, it should - Gary's the guy behind the massive Negro League Statistical Database on Seamheads.com). Below is the story on the back of his Club Fé card:
The Cuban League, which dated back to 1878, had only rarely featured North Americans, and had never seen any black American players, excepting only Negro league teams visiting for fall exhibition series-until 1907. That year the Fe Base Ball Club, nicknamed Los Fraíles (the “Friars”), hired several major black stars from the United States, including Rube Foster, Grant Johnson, and Pete Hill. Fe, which had finished dead last the previous year, mounted a serious challenge to the defending champion Almendares club (Los Azules, or the Blues). Going into the last game of the season, the two teams were knotted with identical 16-13 records. The Blues prevailed in a tight game, 4 to 2, with all the close decisions going their way. After the last out the Fe players surrounded the umpire, whereupon he drew a pistol and held off the angry Friars until he could escape in a police wagon.